There are times in Special Operations where you just have to stand back and say WTF just happened. And it seems to crazy that it can’t possibly be true…but it is and then you just have to laugh. He’s a funny rucking story for you guys this morning.
Many years ago, while our Special Forces team was on a counter-narcotics MTT to Bolivia, the 7th SFG guys did what they always have done, they worked themselves out of a job. For years we had been sending A-Teams to Chimore and Villa Tunari for the “Red Dragon” deployments. Then came the “Stonebridge” deployments, along with teams that trained with other Bolivian units in Riberalta, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and the Bolivian Rangers (the Manchego Bn), the unit that captured and executed Che Guevara after being trained up by Pappy Shelton and the 8th SFG from Panama.
The SF guys trained the UMOPAR, Unidad Móvil Policial para Áreas Rurales (Mobile Police Unit for Rural Areas) the Bolivian para-military counternarcotics police. They wore camouflage uniforms, carried M-2 carbines and M-79 grenade launchers and worked alongside the DEA Snowcap personnel.
As we were getting ready to leave after our six-month deployment, the MILGRP commander and the Country Team made it clear that they felt the UMOPAR training no longer needed an entire (or at times piggybacked pair of A-Teams) to train them up. In fact, they were looking for the DEA to have their own strike force that would remain on the books for the Bolivian government but would be trained and answer only to the U.S. They asked us how it should be trained and put together. We threw together a quick concept and gave them an outline for that.
Fast forward a year later and my partner Dave and I are back and starting the training for this new UMOPAR unit. The first group of guys who were supposed to be the best troops in the UMOPAR for this new unit. The guys, mostly Bolivian campesinos were a mix of city guys from La Paz, Sucre and Cochabamba and the Indian tribes from the countryside who spoke Spanish as a second language.
They were really short but were good natural runners but their rucking skills were in the neophyte stage. So we decided we’d start with 35-lb rucks and not the standard 45-lb that U.S. Special Operations troops begin with.
So for the first cadre-led ruck march PT session, we lined up in the dark about 4:45 in the morning. They were bitching in formation like all soldiers do about being up so early. Our concept was simple since we were just a two-man training team. I’d set the pace up front and Dave would be the “pusher” in the back, keeping the stragglers from falling too far behind. This should be easy…right?
So we trudge out the gate of Chimore with a few guys having chemlights attached to their rucks on the back, just in case the odd driver would be traveling the highway at that time of morning. The pace was easy for the first half-mile, we had already done a test run with just ourselves and had the route marked out.
I started picking up the pace and it wasn’t long before I’d hear the all-too-familiar sound of one guy behind me begin to shuffle and then that sound echoing as the slinky effect took hold.
At the Mile-2 mark, I picked up the pace even more and now the sound of small, intermittent pattering of Bolivian feet became a steady shuffle to keep up with the gringo up front. About two minutes later, from the middle of the formation behind me, I heard something I didn’t expect to….laughter. I turned to see where it was coming from but in the near pitch darkness, I couldn’t see more than one or two guys behind me.
“Well,” thinks I. If they’re finding so much humor in this, let’s get this party started. I picked up the pace even more. Now the shuffling was accompanied by heavy breathing from our candidates as we were moving out with a purpose.
A moment later, more laughter from the Bolivian troops, this time followed by Dave’s voice, now far behind me, “¡Conejo”, “¡Carajo!” Good I thought, Dave is kicking their asses back into the formation.
This sequence repeated two more times and each time, I’d pick up the pace even more, on the way back to base as we approached the bridge that led up to the gate, I started running and urged them to tighten it up and away we went. I ran the last 300 meters or so and then into the compound to where we had our formation. The sun was just beginning to rise and the inky blackness of night was giving way to that grey dawn where everything looks like it is in black and white.
As the formation slowed to a stop, the heavy breathing of the troops was intermingled with more laughter and good-natured shit talking of the troops to one another. I was totally unprepared for what I saw next. Dave looked like he’d run over by a semi. His uniform was tattered and covered with mud, and he was really pissed off…at me.
“What the hell happened”, I asked him? He was hot but kept his voice low, “didn’t you hear me yelling in the back” he asked? The strap on my leg snapped and the f***ng thing kept falling off, and I must have wiped out about five times.”
Dave had lost his leg below the knee about three years earlier. And back then an SF guy or any army guy missing a limb still on active duty was a rarity. There was only three that I knew of. Dave, Carlos Parker, a Sergeant Major from 7th SFG who lost his in Vietnam and Major Dunford, who was our XO at SFAS and then lost his leg when his Hummer rolled over a mine during the first Gulf War.
The Bolivians in the dark had no idea that A. Dave had only one leg and B. that is was falling off during the ruck march. They thought he was just stumbling and falling in the dark. We would get to that in a moment. But first, we had to set things up properly.
We explained to the troops that they’d be carrying more weight and equipment than the average UMOPAR troops and they’d be getting better kit once we got the unit manned. But, they’d have to learn how to move and move fast with all of that gear.
So with that, I asked if there were any questions. And sure enough, one smart-ass in the back said, “It is easy for you guys to move that fast, you have legs twice as long as ours.” There was the cue.
I nodded to Dave, who slid his leg out of his pants and tossed it in front of the formation. It landed perfectly with the boot down standing at attention. There was a gasp from the formation, most of the Bolivians had never seen a prosthetic limb before and they were shocked into silence. “Your legs may be short, but at least you have two of those,” Dave said. You could hear a pin drop.
He leaned in and whispered to me, “that got their attention, I’m grabbing a shower”, and with that, he hopped on one foot into our building. I stood there for a moment longer. “Any other questions or comments?” There were none. I turned the formation over to the local commanders for showers and breakfast. As the troops left they were all coming by and staring at the leg before resuming their grab-assery on the way to their barracks.
We left Dave’s leg there until after breakfast, he had a spare with him and as the regular UMOPAR dudes were doing their morning chores they’d pass by our building and stare at this metal leg with a US jungle boot attached and then stare inside. Dave sent his broken prosthetic back up to Walter Reed and rather than fix it, they sent him a new high-speed version to the Embassy (that’s a story for another time).
Dave became Sargento Terminator to the troops and they asked a few times if he had any more metal parts. I told them his member was made of steel and they rolled on the floor and said that he must be popular with the ladies…if they only knew.
As we progressed with the training, the Bolivian guys never got great at rucking but they improved. One morning we told them we were going on an 8-miler. We told the troops we would be setting a quick pace thru the entire ruck march.
The Bolivian sergeant major looked at me and smiled. We keep rucking until our legs fall off, right?” he asked. That’s called motivation boys and girls.
So when you’re rucking to prepare for your own Selection and your legs begin to tire, remember…you’ve got two. DOL